Few British children’s television properties are quite as timeless as The Sooty Show. Centred on a hand puppet of a voiceless yellow bear bear, Sooty and his best friends Sweep (the noisy grey dog) and Soo (the panda, who for some reason can speak English whilst her male counterparts cannot) have been popular for decades with many generations of younger viewers – and just those born into the 80s.
If you grew up in Britain anytime in the last 70 years, odds are you’re familiar with Sooty – but did you know the following facts about the little bear and his friends?
8. Sooty was originally bought by Harry Corbett for his son
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Rather than being a character created by a faceless television studio, Sooty was purchased in real life by Harry Corbett as a present for his son Peter, who originally gave him the name Teddy.
Not only that, but Harry’s wife Marjorie Corbett provided the voice of Sooty’s panda friend Soo for over 15 years, and his brother Leslie was the original puppeteer for Sooty’s cheeky dog friend Sweep.
7. Sooty was originally yellow all over, but ‘soot’ was added to make him more visible on black and white TVs
Have you ever wondered why the show’s titular yellow puppet was given his name in the first place? Well, you may be surprised to hear the very practical reason behind him being named Sooty all the way back in 1955.
The puppet was originally yellow all over, meaning it was extremely hard to make him out on black and white TV screens. Harry Corbett covered the bear’s nose and ears with soot so he would show up better on screen once the show started airing on the BBC, and the name ‘Sooty’ was born.
6. Sooty was originally the only puppet on the show
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You might have assumed that Sooty was partnered by Sweep and Soo ever since The Sooty Show first aired on the BBC back in 1955, but in truth he actually started out as the only puppet.
Sweep was introduced two years later in 1957, but it was another seven years before Soo brought some much-needed calm to the usually mischievous proceedings. Sooty’s naughty cousin Scampi – not ‘Scamp’ as we had always thought – joined the gang in 1990.
5. Sweep was half dog, half saxophone
We all loved Sooty’s adorable canine pal Sweep, who (on top of being a dog rather than a bear) had a notable difference to The Sooty’s Show’s title character: unlike Sooty, Sweep could talk, in his own unique squeaky manner.
Sweep’s distinctive musical voice was created when his puppeteer Leslie Corbett inserted a saxophone reed into the poor dog’s mouth.
4. Soo was introduced so the BBC wouldn’t appear sexist
- Credit: @Sootyandco Twitter
Rather than being introduced to provide us viewers with a puppet character who could actually speak, Soo was instead brought into the show so that the BBC wouldn’t appear sexist. Everyone’s favourite sensible, calm panda was added to the show in 1964 after there was a backlash about the BBC’s apparent refusal to introduce a female puppet into the proceedings.
Even so, the introduction of Soo did cause concern at the BBC, as they feared that giving Sooty a girlfriend would result in sexual overtones to the children’s show. (‘No Sex for Sooty!’ read one tabloid newspaper headline at the time.)
3. Harry Corbett suffered a heart attack due to the show’s hectic schedule
As well as presenting The Sooty Show on TV, Harry Corbett had his own popular travelling Sooty show that would regularly tour the country to entertain children.
Unfortunately, this hectic schedule eventually proved to be too much for Corbett, causing him to suffer a heart attack in 1975, after which he handed over control of the franchise to his son.
2. Matthew Corbett is not the presenter’s real name
Harry Corbett’s son Matthew – who received the very first Sooty when his father purchased the puppet at a stall in Blackpool – took over the reins of the show in 1976 after his father retired due to ill health. Matthew was actually born with the first name Peter, but had to use one of his middle names when signing up as an actor as there was already a Peter Corbett registered with the British actor’s guild, Equity.
Upon his retirement in 1998, Matthew Corbett was replaced by his occasional co-star Richard Cadell, to whom Corbett sold the Sooty rights for £1 million.
1. It is the longest-running children’s TV programme of all time
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Whilst it faces stiff competition from the likes of Blue Peter, according to the Guinness World Records The Sooty Show is the longest-running children’s TV programme of all time in the United Kingdom.
This record does take into account that the name of the show has gone through a number of name changes: it became Sooty & Co. in 1993, then Sooty Heights in 1999, then simply Sooty in 2001. The show’s last season to date first aired in 2018.